Out the door in ’84 was our moving slogan to get motivated to clean out 7 years of accumulated stuff in our spacious apartment. Michael received the call from Princeton University to be on their faculty in the coming fall term. Knowing that our next apartment would be much smaller, the necessity of downsizing was mandatory. The flurry of activity helped me to bury the aching feeling of loss over leaving Chicago — emotions I knew I would have to deal with later.
We embraced our dear landlord-owners, Roger & Dorothy, who had lived below us on the 1st floor, and knew we would probably never see them again. They waved us off in our loaded up ’74 AMC Matador, recently purchased from a car garage mechanic for the sum of several hundred dollars, and we drove the 800 miles to a new beginning.
The drive back East felt more like driving back in time to my Virginia girlhood. It was May and all the trees were in their full springtime glory. The Midwest endless & changeable sky sunk below softly rolling curves of earth. Gone was the urban, vertical, cityscape which had overwhelmed & scared me 7 years before. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be back in a place that made me feel like Chicago had only been a dream. I felt rootless & disconnected.
Our garret-style apartment on the 3rd floor of a Victorian house was romantically idyllic with its sloping dormers and 4 large rooms, one of which was my studio. Tree branches and dappled light were the view from every window, and it felt as if we were living in a tree house. My work’s imagery would eventually respond to this environment. How do I transition from where I thought my work had been? This was the first time that I was fully conscious of how big an impact this change in location would have on my creative process.
Princeton was a very self-contained & sleepy college town back then, and when you got past the University, you could walk a long time and never see another person. I started walking at least 5 miles a day, stopping to draw portions of what were becoming my favorite models — the huge, ancient trees. As a child, I loved to play in the woods and trees were always necessary to any game of strategy or make-believe. I had forgotten about them in Chicago because there was too much urban newness to absorb. And to my eye, Lake Michigan & snow eclipsed all other forms of Mother Nature.
I filled my sketchbooks those first 6 months. Against the backdrop of this historic town, the trees had no competitors for my attention. They became my spiritual sages, steadfastly pointing to my past & its relevance to my present. Just by being a rich source of detailed imagery, they helped me find a path to productivity . I began to feel less alienated and ready to build a new body of work.